Interactive play Far From the Heart confronts sexual violence

Immersion theatre starts conversation about consent among youth

Margaret St. Onge, Marie-Josee Dionne, Coleton Denomme, and Eric McDace in Far From the Heart at the Isabel Bader Centre on Friday, Nov. 2. 

This story reviews theatrical representations of sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers.

Immersion theatre troupe Sheatre wants you to criticize their performance.

On Nov. 2, the troupe performed Far From the Heart at the Isabel Bader Centre and demonstrated this unconventional approach to theatre for students.

Before starting, the troupe told the audience the show would take place in two back-to-back performances. The first part would proceed without interruption. However, in the second part, members of the audience could interrupt the actors by yelling “stop” when they saw sexually abusive behaviour.

The actors asked the audience to view their performance critically, openly judging the play’s contentions.  

The first half of the show, called the “problem play,” follows four teens—Felicity, Rachel, Adam, and Warren—at a party. The act ends with Adam pausing above Felicity just before a sexual assault takes place.

The second time around, audience members interrupted the play during every scene.

Far From the Heart was an exercise in social responsibility. The troupe invited the audience to be comfortable with confronting inappropriate behaviour, whether it was in the show or daily life.

In one scene, Adam said, “I’d tap that,” while talking about an actress on TV. Several audience members yelled “stop” in response.  

After interrupting, one audience member said the comment objectified women because it was sexually violent language. During moments of interruption, the troupe invited audience members on stage to physically intervene in their performance appropriately, changing the scene to be more respectful and culturally informed. 

The only catch was the cast didn’t make it easy for them. 

Staying in-character, the actors argued back to the audience and firmly defended their actions. The audience responded patiently, but were as unrelenting as the actors.

“We don’t make it easy because real life isn’t easy,” Coleton Denomme, who played Warren, said to the audience after the play.

The discussion aimed to inform audience members about the realities of sexual assault, but also motivated them to correct problematic behaviour when they see it in real life.

It’s a goal the troupe has kept since they started touring Far From the Heart in 2006.

Now, 12 years and 250 shows later, they’ve learned a lot.  

They’ve transcribed each audience’s comments and kept over 12 years of records documenting their discussions surrounding sexual assault and rape culture. At the end of the performance, the troupe shared some of their findings with the audience.  

For one, when Adam objectifies an actress, male audience members often resort to violence, while female audience members respond verbally.

When the former intervenes, the actor questions manhood by asking if the audience member is “man enough to tap that.”

The interrupter responds violently. This reaction is something the troupe’s touring manager, Jon Farmer, says he’d like to see stop. 

Farmer said that while they’re a theatre group, the troupe’s performances are a conversation. He said theatre—like the real world—is a place where “we have to be able to agree and disagree” without violence.  

He added that to identify this trend is the first step towards “making a change in the greater male culture.”

It’s a reparable problem, according to the troupe. For them, the show will discuss sexual assault until it’s no longer an issue.  

According to Farmer, it’s their social responsibility to share awareness and knowledge—on or off campus.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.